For the second straight year, Celtics PG Rajon Rondo is following up a very good regular season with a tremendous postseason. The diminutive speedster went off on Cleveland Sunday night in Game Four of the second round, putting up a Oscar Robertson-esque 29 points, 18 rebounds, and 13 assists in a series-tying 97-87 win.
Although this single performance was historically noteworthy, his averages and individual lines during the entire playoffs are downright intimidating for a 6-1, 170-pound point guard. In five first round games against Miami, Rondo averaged 15 points, 6 rebounds, and 10 assists per. He also picked up 12 steals in the series, snagging at least 2 in every game.
Then it was onto the real challenge: Cleveland in the the second round. Through four games, he’s filling the stat sheet like an old lady with a bingo pen to the tune of 19 points, 8 rebounds, and 13 assists per. He has 5 steals against the league’s top team, and he’s shooting 52%.
Behind Rondo’s outstanding big-game step-up-manship, Boston has LeBron’s squad locked in a dogfight that’s now a best-of-three series.
If Rondo was putting up numbers like Chris Paul during the regular season, this would all look like superstar business as usual. That’s not the case, however. Rondo’s season was a respectable 14 points, 4 rebounds, and 10 assists per, which earned him his first All-Star Game appearance, but it certainly was no clear harbinger of what was to follow. Beyond the suddenly increased averages, he already has 1 triple-double in the playoffs after recording only 2 in his 81 regular-season contests.
Last year went the same way for Rondo. His regular season pers were 12 points, 5 rebounds, and 8 assists. Once the playoffs hit, he was a do-it-all machine, averaging 17, 10, and 10. Again, he only recorded 2 triple-doubles before the playoffs, but he went for 3 in 14 post-season games. Even with a veteran squad filled with plenty of players more than capable of contributing in every which way, Rondo has shown a penchant for taking over when it really counts.
If there’s one thing every coach would give his left arm for, it’s players who are good enough to get you to the playoffs who then really step it up once you’re there. This type of player ends up with championships and with the tag of “winner” bestowed upon him by fans – guys like Bill Russell, whose career 15-22-4 became 16-25-5 in the post-season (because it was harder to get credited with assists back in the 60’s, Russell’s assist totals often lead his team during the post-season; Bill Walton wasn’t the only one) are known as winners. Then you look at someone like Wilt Chamberlain, and his averages of 30-23-4 on 54% shooting dipped to 23-24-4 on 52% once it really mattered. The one has 11 rings, the other has 2 and was labeled a “loser” for most of his career. Guess why.
Throw in the stellar defense Rondo has displayed early in his career (he was just named All-Defensive First Team), and Boston arguably has the best point guard in the NBA right now.
Let’s take a quick look at how he stacks up against the other top 1’s around the league.
Where Rondo ranks among the NBA’s point guards, after the jump …
Chris Paul, New Orleans Hornets
Paul is also hella fast, but he brings more to the table overall. Despite being the complete focus of other teams’ defenses, Paul has ridiculously low turnover totals for his minutes played and assists handed out. This past year’s 10.7-2.5 A-TO ratio (4.3) was best in the league by quite a bit, and it was right around his career average. Not only that, it’s up to him to score more points for the Hornets, which he does with outstanding efficiency (19 points per, 49% FG, 41% 3FG), displaying an outside shot that Rondo has never developed (24% from deep for Rondo’s career). Paul’s defense is just as good, and there’s never any questions about who’s the leader on his squad or if he has an attitude problem.
Consensus: Paul is definitely better.
Deron Williams, Utah Jazz
Williams is similar to Paul in that he is the unquestioned leader of the Jazz, has a great outside shot (37% for the year, 36% for the career), is relied upon as one of the team’s top scorers (19 per), and is a an upstanding person who doesn’t create any off-court controversies. Like Rondo, Williams’ A-TO rate is very good (10.5-3.3 for Williams, 9.8-3.0 for Rondo), and he steps it up in the playoffs (career averages: 17-3-9 for the regular season turns into 21-4-10, plus the 3-point shooting jumps to 40%). The one area Rondo has a clear advantage is on defense, but it’s not enough to trump what Williams means to Utah.
Consensus: Williams is better.
Steve Nash, Phoenix Suns
Nash is without question one of the best 3-point shooters in NBA history (career 43%) and one of the best ever at being the singular reason his team’s offensive system works (see also: Mike D’Antoni’s crappy Knicks). Rondo is a much better defender than Nash—whose defense is terrible—and he’s able to be a good rebounder (Nash hasn’t had double digit rebounds in a game since the final day of the 2005-06 season). Don’t forget that Nash has to do more scoring in the regular season to get his team into the playoffs, which counts for something.
Consensus: Nash by a nose.
Jason Kidd, Dallas Mavericks
Kidd is a smarter player than Rondo, and he chooses his moments wisely. He’s a better on-court director than the young Celtic and his post-up game demands attention, but his defense is a little behind Rondo’s (not much), he can’t carry a scoring load well (40% career FG%), and he doesn’t bring the consistently dynamic game he could in yesteryear; he is 37 after all.
Consensus: Rondo is a little better.
Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls
The Bulls rely on Rose to do more scoring, so he puts up 21 points per on similar shooting percentages as Rondo (49% overall, 27% from three). His A-TO rate is just OK for a point guard (6.0-2.8), and his defensive skills are still developing. Rose has done a good job of getting a so-so club into the playoffs in both of his first two seasons, and he’s done plenty of taking over in the post-season, (Remember this?) although he still forces too much action when his team’s back is against the wall.
Consensus: Rondo is better.
Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
Westbrook is playing like a younger Rondo: at full throttle and showing remarkable improvement between his rookie and sophomore seasons. His assists went from 5.3 to 8.0 per, while his turnovers remained at 3.3. Westbrook’s defense is looking solid, he’s making heady plays, and he has the mentality a little guy (6-3, 185) needs to record the occasional triple-double; Westbrook has had one each season. Unfortunately, the Thunder’s point guard has virtually no shot outside of 10 feet, and he doesn’t finish at the rim as well as Rondo.
Consensus: Rondo is definitely better.
Zachariah Blott cannot recommend Rick Telander’s “Heaven Is A Playground” enough.
Rajon Rondo photos courtesy of Icon SMI